admin on November 5th, 2010

If you’re looking for some food for thought on game mechanics and game writing, the spitfire at game-isms discusses (with spoilers) this relationship.  It’s some fun little thinkin’ for a Friday evenin’.

admin on November 1st, 2010

The following is a handy list of software resources designed to make writing video game dialogue easier. Each has its general benefits and drawbacks, so please evaluate them based on your own criteria.  The applications are specifically designed for writing games,  so you will note that Final Draft and other general scriptwriting applications are left off the list. This is strictly video game scriptwriting.

Chat Mapper

Chat Mapper is a new, high quality, easy to use tool for writing and testing nonlinear dialogue, especially for video games. Built from the frustration of trying to use Final Draft, Word, or even Excel to write complex branching game dialogue, Chat Mapper was built from the ground up with usability in mind.

SimDialog is a visual editor for dialog in computer games. The system creates dialog as a directed graph. This allows for play using the dialog with a state- based cause and effect system that controls selection of non-player character responses and can provide a basic scoring mechanism for games.This paper presents the design of SimDialog, illustrating how script writers and non-programmers can easily create dialog for video games with complex branching structures and dynamic response characteristics.

This paper introduces a Reusable Scripting Engine to automate the generation of cinematics and cut-scenes in video games. This approach allows storytellers to provide their stories in a well-defined, structured format, which is then interpreted by our engine, along with supplemental graphic and audio content, to produce an animated presentation of the story in an automated fashion. This paper presents the design of our Reusable Scripting Engine, and discusses a prototype implementation of this design, as well as initial experiences with using this prototype system to date.


The state-of-the-art in game scripting is to manually script individual game objects that interact in the game. Thousands of non-player characters (NPCs) and props need to be scripted before they play a part in a game adventure. This situation introduces serious concerns about programming effort and reliability. We demonstrate ScriptEase, a tool to facilitate the game scripting process. It is based on generative design patterns for automatic code generation of scripts associated with game objects. ScriptEase is intended for a broad audience, from programmers to game designers and users without programming experience. Game designers can use commonly occurring patterns to generate scripting code without any programming knowledge. This demonstration illustrates the entire process of creating and scripting game props and NPCs.

admin on October 16th, 2010

Although this collection isn’t about games, it is an interesting narrative revealed through web browsing. In particular, this passage is striking in the context of non-linear narrrative and a kind of wayfinding through information:

“This particular collection of books was the outcome of a series of escalating searches on the World Wide Web. Deploying a search term like “oil,” “Arab,” or “Middle East” returned an unmanageable array of books — but adding an additional search term would narrow the field in telling ways. Books about oil before 1973 that cost less than five dollars are few and almost entirely in hardcover, usually technical guides written for a specialized audience. After 1973, the same search yields a completely different array: in hardcover, hundreds of books about the coming oil crisis, rampant Arab wealth and influence, global bankruptcy, impending world war, and biblical Armageddon. At the same time, in paperback, the terrorist novel is born, and its brood is legion — cover after cover depicting vintage special agents, Israeli commandos, vigilante lone wolves, soldiers of fortune, and even a black samurai, each karate-kicking djellaba’d sheikhs beside burning oil rigs, often after sampling the delicacies of the inevitable harem. A similar set of searches substituting “Iran” for “Arab” produced its own assortment of types and stereotypes. We wanted to see what would happen if we put together a library without regard to aptness or excellence; if we chose books not for their subjects, but their contexts; not for their authors, but their publishers; not for their qualities, but in their quantities.”

To read more visit Browser, beware: Bidoun 22: LIBRARY

The story that unfolds after this is an intriguing collection of varied media -

The Cold War produced publishing ventures across the globe. Post-revolutionary Cuba became for a time a hotbed of avant-garde publishing, sponsoring the Afro-Asian-American journal Tricontinental, which included foldout posters promoting a solidarity-of-the-month club with oppressed guerrilla movements the world over. Copies were door-dropped on college campuses across the Third World, including Beirut, where Bidoun acquired some thirty-odd copies for fifty cents each. In “Revolution by Design,” Babak Radboy considers the aesthetic legacy of Tricontinental and its visionary art director, Alfredo Rostgaard.


admin on October 11th, 2010
University of California Santa Cruz

UCSC Mascot

UCSC Hosts Symposium on Narrative Intelligence: AI Approaches for
Games and Fiction

DATE: October 14th, 2010 — 9:30am to 5:30pm
LOCATION: UCSC Campus, Engineering 2, Room 599
PRICE: Free (though UCSC parking pass required)
HOSTED BY: The UCSC Center for Games and Playable Media. Co-sponsored
by the Digital Arts and New Media program and Institute for Humanities

More information at

Symposium Topic
What would it take for computer games and digital literature to
dynamically offer meaningful story choices based on past interactions,
or draw analogies inspired by authors such as Virginia Woolf, or
create avatars that are meaningful characters with individual
motivations, or give us new means to understand the phenomena of
narrative itself? Any of these would require research into
fundamentally new computational models — but research that is deeply
informed by insights of the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
This free, one day symposium (the first event sponsored by the new UC
Santa Cruz Center for Games and Playable Media) brings together four
leading international researchers with UCSC’s active research groups
in this area.

Directions to UC Santa Cruz:

When arriving at the main campus entrance, stop at the parking and
information kiosk on the right side of the road, shortly after you
come through the main entrance. Park in the pullout next to the kiosk
and purchase a permit from the kiosk attendant. The attendant can also
provide you with a campus map and indicate the Engineering 2 building
(the symposium location) and the Core West parking structure (the best
parking location for the symposium). Please arrive at campus 20
minutes early to allow time for purchasing permit, parking, and
walking to the symposium location.

9:30-10:30am: Vadim Bulitko and David Thue, University of Alberta, Canada.
10:30-11:30am: Jichen Zhu, University of Central Florida.
11:30-1:00pm: Lunch Break
1:00-2:00pm: Mirjam Eladhari, Gotland University, Sweden.
2:00-3:00pm: Michael Young, North Carolina Statue University.
3:00-3:30pm: Break
3:30-4:30pm: UCSC Research Demos
4:30-5:30pm: Panel Discussion
Talk Abstracts
Agency for Everyone: A New Focus for the PaSSAGE Project

Vadim Bulitko and David Thue

Many forms of storytelling are well-suited to the domain of
entertainment, but interactive storytelling remains unique in its
ability to also afford its audiences a sense of having influence over
what will happen next. While the need for new techniques in content
generation and reuse is clear, a common assumption of the field
to-date – that providing more opportunities for players to act will
cause them to feel more agency – may not necessarily be true. Instead,
we draw on research in Social Psychology to propose that players’
perceptions of agency depend not only on alternative actions being
available, but also on the desirability of the consequences that
occur. Toward testing this hypothesis, we present the design of a
system which automatically estimates the relevance of in-game
decisions for each particular player, based on a dynamically learned
model of their preferences for story content. By actively choosing
among several potential consequences of a given player decision, the
proposed system highlights the relevance of each decision while
accommodating for its players’ preferences over potential story

Analogy-Based Computational Narrative

Jichen Zhu

Narrative is one of the oldest creative forms, capable of depicting a
wide spectrum of human conditions. However, many existing
computational narrative systems are confined to the goal-driven,
problem-solving aesthetics. Our current research focuses on using
computational analogy to generate stories about characters’ inner
world. Combining insights from literature, visual arts, cognitive
science and artificial intelligence, our work intends to expand the
expressive range of computational narrative.

Semi-Autonomous Avatars in Virtual Game Worlds

Mirjam Eladhari

Semi-autonomous agents are agents whose actions are controlled partly
by users and partly by artificial intelligence (AI) components. In
virtual game worlds (VGWs) users are represented by playable
characters, called avatars. Penny (2001) proposed that ‘avatars can be
fruitfully thought of as semi-autonomous agents, which have their own
behaviours and intentionality, but are intimately tied to the user’s
actions.’ What players can do in a given moment is determined by the
action potential of their avatars, which in turn is determined by the
game design. Avatar-specific properties can be used to represent the
world in individual ways for different players. The same data can be
used to automate avatar behaviours, such as reaction tendencies or
subtle body language.

Cracks in the Fourth Wall: Digging into a Humanistic Phenomenon Using
Computational Models

Michael Young

Research on computational approaches to narrative push the boundaries
on a diverse set of computational techniques. At the core of the area,
though, lies narrative itself. Narrative holds a position of privilege
in our minds, being a fundamental mode of understanding the worlds
around us. In this talk, I’ll describe a trajectory of projects from
my research group and the role that the nature of narrative and its
comprehension by people has played in setting our goals and the
methods we use to achieve them.

UC Santa Cruz Research Demos
UC Santa Cruz researchers will demonstrate narrative intelligence
projects which will include:

The Prom: Dynamic social interaction models enable social puzzle-based
gameplay with narrative progression.
Grail GM: Technology supporting dynamic quest progressions for
quest-based interactive stories.
Spyfeet: A cell-phone-based, outdoor role-playing game project, using
narrative motivations together with story and dialogue customizations
to encourage physical activity for middle school students.
Vadim Bulitko received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1999 and is currently an
Associate Professor at the department of Computing Science at the
University of Alberta. His interests are in strong Artificial
Intelligence, creativity and cognition. Vadim’s primary contributions
are in the area of real-time heuristic search. He has also worked in
emotion and culture modeling in virtual trainers, player modeling for
adaptive story telling in role-playing video games, enemy prediction
in tactical first-person shooters, hiding and seeking spatial patterns
in human behavior and other areas. In doing so, Vadim has collaborated
with Bioware Corp., Reykjavik University, Queensland University of
Technology, Canadian Forestry Service, Syncrude Research and other
institutions. He was the program chair for AIIDE ‘10 conference,
co-chair of an IJCAI’05 workshop on decision-making in uncertain
environments, a workshop and tutorial chair for ICML’06 and a co-chair
of the SARA’09 international symposium. In his free time Vadim enjoys
photography, painting and sketching, hiking, martial arts, jogging,
writing poetry, reading philosophy and playing video games.

David Thue is a 4th year Ph.D. Candidate in Computing Science at the
University of Alberta, Canada. His ongoing research project, PaSSAGE
(Player-Specific Stories via Automatically Generated Events), aims to
employ techniques in Artificial Intelligence to mimic the creativity
and adaptability of human storytellers, toward providing interactive
experiences that are tailored to the preferences of each individual

Jichen Zhu is an assistant professor of Digital Media in the School of
Visual Arts and Design at University of Central Florida, where she is
also the director of the Procedural Expression Lab. Her work focuses
on developing humanistic and interpretive framework of computational
technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), and
constructing AI-based cultural artifacts. Her current research area
includes digital humanities, software studies, computational
narrative, and generative art. Dr. Zhu received a Ph.D. in Digital
Media and a Master of Science in Computer Science from Georgia
Institute of Technology. She also holds a Master of Entertainment
Technology from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Science
from McGill University in Montreal.

Dr. Mirjam Palosaari Eladhari is associate professor at the GAME
department of Gotland University. Mirjam’s main area of research is
AI-driven game design. The research approach she has adopted includes
exploration of the social multi-player game-design space through
experimental implementations of prototypes where both novel and
established AI-techniques are used. Her dissertation work (2009)
explored characterization and story construction in MMO’s focusing
semi-autonomous avatars. Before Mirjam went into research (2003) she
was lead game programmer at Liquid Media in Stockholm. Her first brush
with game research was in the applied research studio Zero-Game of the
Interactive Institute in Sweden where she was technical lead (2004).

R. Michael Young is an associate professor of computer science at NC
State University, where he leads the Liquid Narrative Research Group.
His work focuses on the computational modeling of interactive
narrative. Michael received an NSF CAREER Award in 2000 and has
received awards from NCSU for both outstanding teaching and
outstanding activities in economic development. Michael was
editor-in-chief of the Journal of Game Development from 2007 to 2008.
He serves as an associate editor of the Journal of Virtual Reality and
Broadcasting and of the IEEE journal Transaction on Computational
Intelligence and AI in Games.


admin on October 10th, 2010

This is a useful little list from IGN. It outlines the 10 most overused plot devices in games.  If you don’t have time to read the entire list, here’s the short version: (complete article here)

  • Secret Organizations Plotting Conspiracies, Possibly Relating to World Domination
  • Uncovering Long Lost Remnant of Something
  • Fulfilling a Prophecy
  • Killing the Aliens
  • Unlocking One’s Hidden True Powers, A.K.A. the Chosen One
  • Accidentally Unleashing a Terrible Evil
  • Must Seek Revenge
  • World War II
  • Main Character with Amnesia
  • World Ending

Now, if you add that to the list top 10 overused soap opera plots:

  • Amnesia.
  • Your Bitter Rival is Your Mother, Daughter, Sister, Son
  • Switching Paternity Results
  • Back From The Dead
  • You start to see a pattern

The point – there may be plenty of potential in game writing, but it seems we don’t like to stray too far from home.   Just to spice things up, consider reading Epic Game plots made simple, – you may find that when you boil things down, many games tell the same stories.

Tags: ,

admin on October 2nd, 2010

Freeman suggests the use of character diamonds to help generate effective characters. This character diamond generator creates character diamonds easily and quickly. They are not perfect characters, but are good characters ever perfect characters?

About Character diamonds:

“A Character Diamond is a tool for developing more engaging characters in movies and novels. Writers should develop a Character Diamond for each character in their script.  Each point on the diamond (at least three, but no more than five) represents a distinct character trait–together they define the essence of the character.  Those characteristics determine a character’s words and actions. Does the character possess a wry wit?  Then their words should reflect it.  Are they self-conscious and lacking self-esteem? Then, perhaps, they should look down and kick the dirt when they speak.  The Character Diamond is a filter that shapes the characters words and actions.”

-from Greg Stielstra

admin on September 30th, 2010

This is a list of games with interesting stories. It is not a complete list, just a little bit about each game and what makes it interesting.


“The player of the game takes on the role of Ico, a young boy born with a pair of horns, who must escort a princess named Yorda safely out of a castle without her being captured by the shadowy figures that prowl the castle or being killed by the castle’s numerous environmental hazards. Despite selling only 650,000 copies worldwide, Ico received strong reviews, and has become a cult hit among video game enthusiasts.”

“It makes effective use of minimal dialogue and story to forge strong emotional connections with the characters and environments in the game. It includes action, adventure and puzzle elements. The game also has a notable fictional language which has been theorized [1] to be backwards Japanese.”-Wikipedia


System Shock

“Set aboard the fictional Citadel research and mining space station, in a Cyberpunk future . . . it was critically acclaimed for having detailed 3D environments, an engrossing storyline, deep gameplay and a memorable villain. System Shock is often cited as an inspiration for games like Half-Life and Deus Ex; indeed, some of the same key people behind System Shock worked on the latter.”

also review Bio Shock


“Set in 2072, the game casts the player as a computer hacker caught while attempting to remotely access files concerning Citadel space station, which is owned by the TriOptimum Corporation, the largest corporation in the world. The hacker is taken to Citadel and brought before Edward Diego, a greedy TriOptimum executive who offers to drop all charges against the hacker in exchange for a secret hacking job on SHODAN, the artificial intelligence (AI) that controls the station.

To make the deal more enticing, the hacker receives a valuable military-grade cybernetic implant with the implantation operation bankrolled by Diego. After hacking SHODAN, removing the AI’s ethical constraints, and handing control over to Diego, the hacker is prepared for the promised surgery. Following the operation, the hacker is put into a six-month long controlled healing coma in the surgical suite of the station’s medical level. The game begins as the hacker awakens.” – Wikipedia

Video: System Shock 2 Training Component :

Grim Fandango

The story unfolds in four episodes, each set a year apart on the Day of the Dead. It is from this festival that much of the game’s imagery is drawn — most of the game’s characters are skeletal calaca figures (based on the work of Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada). Various flowers are also used as tools of murder, in the form of a substance known as “Sproutella”, which reacts with bone, destroying it by causing flowers to grow in it extremely rapidly. Characters refer to this manner of death as “sprouting”. There is also unique fauna scattered throughout the game, such as bone-eating fire beavers and gigantic cats used for racing.

Unusually, the game combines this mythical underworld with 1930s Art Deco design motifs and a dark plot reminiscent of the film noir genre. Manny, whose job combines the roles of Grim Reaper and travel agent, turns detective when he discovers that deserving souls are being denied their rightful post-mortem reward of direct travel to Mictlan, bypassing the four-year trip that all other souls must take. Manny’s investigations draw him into a tangled web of corruption, deceit, and murder.

The second part of the game, when Manny is running a nightclub, is inspired by Humphrey Bogart films The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo and Casablanca. In the game, the gambler Chowchilla Charlie is extremely reminiscent of Peter Lorre, and the town’s corrupt police chief is based on Claude Rains’s Captain Renault. Despite this, Tim Schafer stated that the true inspiration was drawn from films like Double Indemnity, in which a weak and undistinguished man (an insurance salesman, not a detective) is involved in murder and intrigue[1].



“For years, the Psychonauts have deployed their psychically-armed operatives all over the world, but this time trouble is brewing in their own boot camp. A deranged scientist is abducting camp cadets for their brains. One student, a mysterious and powerful new arrival named Raz, stands alone against the lunatic. Raz must develop and unleash an arsenal of paranormal powers including his most powerful weapon of all—the ability to launch himself telepathically into the minds of others. Ultimately he must enter the psyche of his worst enemy and destroy his dark plans at their source while trying not to lose his sanity in the process.” – from the psychonauts website

American McGee’s Alice’s_Alice

“Shortly after her second adventure, Alice’s parents are killed in a fire of which she is the only survivor. Driven catatonic and having attempted suicide (implied, but never directly referred to), she is institutionalised in Rutledge Asylum. Years later, Alice is called by the White Rabbit to the aid of a radically altered Wonderland now under the despotic rule of the Red Queen. The Cheshire Cat in particular now looks very different from Sir John Tenniel’s original illustration: he is shown here as skeletally thin and his grin looks are more devious than mischievous. The Cat is Alice’s constant companion throughout the game, popping up now and again to guide the player or offer advice.” – from Wikipedia



admin on September 28th, 2010

David Freeman’s Creating Emotions in Games is getting a little old, but it’s a wonderful book. It contains literally hundreds of simply little ideas to making a game story that much more interesting. He outlines them in a nice framework, putting quick tips and strategies in short, clear chapters. It’s the closest thing to a how to write scripts for games book I’ve ever read. The artwork is also interesting.

Now, here’s the really good news. The book is available on Google books.  Of course, it’s still nice to support the author and publisher (New Rider’s rocks!), so feel free to but it on Amazon. Even a used copy is better than freeloading.  Here are the two links you’ll need:

Google Books

And the page:

admin on September 28th, 2010

The International Digital Media Arts Association 2010 Conference in Voncouver, BC is focused on the digital narrative this year. Held at Emily Carr University, the conference aims to incorporate all the elements of the current trends in digital media arts as they relate to narrative. This should be a pretty interesting set of topics. Here’s the general overview:

Leading academics, professionals and artists will gather at Emily Carr University of Art and Design for the International Digital Media and Arts Association’s 8th annual conference to explore the world of digital technologies with a focus on the subject of The Digital Narrative. The conference will include workshops, keynote speakers, “extreme close-up” guest panels, paper presentations, networking, discussions, and social events as well as opportunities to explore Emily Carr’s state of the art facilities

New digital technologies and mediums are informing, challenging and reinventing our notions of narrative structures and storytelling. Non- linear, virtual, artificial, interactive, and cyber culture have become common terms and concepts when describing the emerging integration of science, art, and sociology. The Digital Narrative explores ideas of how storytelling and communication is influencing and influenced by new and emerging technologies.

The conference will have an art exhibit which should be interesting too. Although I’m not sure how you show digital narratives that aren’t screen based in an art gallery setting. I’m sure they will figure it out.

The conference website is


admin on September 27th, 2010

We are looking for position papers of colleagues with either an expertise, or experiences (good or bad!), in teaching Interactive Digital Storytelling in either artistically/creative or technically motivated seminars. We are also interested in industrial or other practical experience reports of the knowledge exchange necessary in interdisciplinary projects.

The last 10 years of research in the domain of Interactive Digital Storytelling have led to several advanced systems, which have been demonstrated on stories usually created by the systems’ inventors themselves. To leverage the potential of these systems and to create more and particularly more compelling interactive narratives, it is essential to involve experienced story creators as authors.

A key difficulty is that these authors may lack the technical and conceptual knowledge that is necessary to grasp the complexity of the systems produced by research groups. On the other hand, current storyworld creation by engineers often lacks the conceptual knowledge of creative principles for narratives and drama. Therefore, it is critical to find ways of education across the disciplines.

Within advanced University courses, video game schools, interactive writing curricula, art schools, digital storytelling training sessions etc., students are currently taught in narrative writing and future interactive story technologies for games and digital media. However, there is limited opportunity of sharing experiences and also of reusing educational material across disciplines.

This workshop aims at sharing knowledge, approaches and experiences in teaching Interactive Digital Storytelling, and will be structured by participant presentations and discussions. At the conference ICIDS 2010, it takes place after a tutorial(*) in the morning, “Introduction to Interactive Story Creation”, for authors who want to gain insights into the state of the art in story creation principles for highly-interactive storytelling.

Form of Submission:
2-4 pages A4 including pictures and references
E-mail to:
Deadline: 5th October 2010
Notification of acceptance for presentation: 15th October 2010

Organizers: Ulrike Spierling, Nicolas Szilas, Steve Hoffmann, Urs Richle
from the EU-FP7-Project IRIS (Integrating Research in Interactive Storytelling)